I Think the Media Gets a Pass on the Manti Te’o Hoax

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The sports world is all atwitter over the revelation that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, has turned out to be a hoax. The two didn’t meet after Notre Dame lost to Stanford in 2009, they didn’t get together occasionally when Kekua visited Hawaii, and Kekua didn’t die of leukemia the same week as Te’o’s grandmother. She never even existed.

There are, needless to say, questions galore about this, and I look forward to the media frenzy over it. But this I don’t really get:

The revelation that Kekua had never actually lived, let alone died, has stunned a nation and a sporting press that had blithely reported details of their relationship for months on end. Many are now angry at the media. “Nobody asked: who is she? Where did she live? Not one reporter dug deep. The lack of legwork is a total surprise to me,” said Frank Shorr, a sports and journalism expert at Boston University.

Well….OK. But come on. Reporters don’t go into cynical investigative mode when a football player tells sappy stories about his girlfriend. Why would they? Not only would it be kind of creepy, but there’s simply no reason to suspect any kind of foul play. I mean, who lies about stuff like this? Nobody. So why would anyone ever be skeptical enough to start digging into it? This is a football player’s girlfriend, not the president of the United States saying he had nothing to do with that botched burglary over at the Watergate.

I think the press gets a pass on this. You’d have to be a little deranged to think about investigating something like this. It’s not even slightly surprising to me that no one ever did.

UPDATE: Hmmm. More here from SI’s Pete Thamel, who wrote a cover story about Te’o on short deadline a few months ago. I’m not sure whether this changes my mind or confirms it. Either way, this is one damn peculiar story.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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